A new light is about to break on the horizon of residential illumination: light emitting diodes, or LEDs. They have been used for years in indicator, electronic readout, and signage applications, as well as in the theater industry. More recently, LEDs have seen increasing use as architectural accents in high-end homes. In the not-so-distant future, LED technology will move out of this niche and will take over general home lighting duty, according to industry experts.

“LEDs offer a nice alternative to folks who both want to save energy but also want great lighting in their home, and want to have lighting that shows off their home,” points out Kevin Dowling, vice president of innovation for Color Kinetics.

The key to LEDs achieving general-use status will be manufacturers' ability to develop a high-efficacy white-light LED with warm tones, which the industry has been focusing on to replicate the glow of incandescent light, because that is what homeowners find most desirable. LEDs have great potential to close the gap between the efficiency of fluorescents and the warmth of incandescents, according to Ron Mascenti, marketing director for enLux LED. Already LED technology can provide warm white lights that use less energy than incandescents, but most still cannot match the efficacy of cool-white LEDs—which tend to have a blue or green cast—or of many fluorescents. However, continuous improvements are being made.

In addition to energy efficiency, LED lighting offers several other benefits that leave incandescents in the dark. With possible lifespans of 50,000 to 100,000 hours, LED light sources need replacing far less frequently than incandescents and fluorescents. Also, LEDs generate very little heat during operation and can be designed to fit nearly any size or shape requirement, so they can be used in ways that simply are not possible with hot-burning, bulky incandescents or halogens. According to London-based lighting designer Marcel Jean Vos of Vos Solutions, low heat output is the most critical aspect from a design perspective, because it allows LEDs to be incorporated into nearly any type of material, even fabrics, and more importantly allows them to be used in locations that would carry a risk of burns—to people, artwork, or other belongings—with traditional light sources.

They also can be integrated into many home lighting control systems, making scene-setting and program operation easier for the homeowner to manage after installers have left. With LEDs, installations can be as simple or as complex as the client wishes. Intensity and dimmer controls as well as color controls can be built into an LED system, allowing designers to program specific color changes or process through the entire spectrum without the need for filters

For the immediate future, most LED lamps and fixtures will follow traditional lighting formats. Already some manufacturers have introduced recessed downlights, decorative pendants, strips, and pucks for residential use. Lighting fixtures also can be designed in entirely new forms. The light source can be integrated into the body of the fixture in such a way that there is no separation between the two, a concept made feasible because of the long service life LEDs provide. Some experts predict that this is the direction LED-lit fixtures will eventually take.

However, it is unlikely that traditional fixture forms will be completely abandoned, according to Vos, because everyone has different taste. Vos predicts that 80 percent of LED lighting will take on new forms, while the remaining 20 percent maintains traditional formats.

Other industry experts agree, including lighting designer Barry Bruckoff of Sausalito, Calif.-based Bruckoff Design Associates. He thinks LEDs will replace other light sources in many applications, such as for illuminating a 15-foot-high ceiling cove. “You want to be very sure that you're providing light sources that the client won't be cursing you over a few years later when they have to replace bulbs,” he says. But he also thinks that conventional light sources will be mixed with LEDs for some projects.

LED technology opens up a whole new world of lighting potential; it can be integrated into a home in many unconventional ways, becoming less a lighting fixture and more of an architectural element. In time, LEDs will allow architects and designers to rethink the role of lighting in homes and to redesign how lighting is used.

io Lighting

The Luxrail low-voltage LED handrail, for indoor and outdoor applications, is available in standard and high-output light intensities with several beam-spread options suitable for illuminating pathways or as accent lighting. The handrail is constructed of stainless steel, aluminum, or brass and comes in several finishes. The integrated linear LED offers cool-white or warm-white light options. 847.735.7000. www.iolighting.com..

Progress Lighting

High-output, warm-white LED fixtures for a variety of applications make up the Everlume line, including pendants, recessed downlights, step and wall lights, and cove lighting. Dimmable mini-pendants provide more than 40 lumens per watt, but consume only 2 watts. 864.599.6000. www.everlumelighting.com..

Winona Lighting

The Pops series of pendants, chandeliers, flush mounts, and wall mounts feature shades machined from solid acrylic in 20 shapes, including cylinders, spheres, bulbs, beehives, and spikes. Three sizes are available, as well as eight LED colors: warm white, cool white, amber, blue, cyan, green, orange, and red. 800.328.5291. www.winonalighting.com..

Color Kinetics

The color-changing LEDs of the iColor MR g2 lamp create saturated bursts of color for a range of interior applications. The lamp is designed to fit standard MR 16 bi-pin fixtures and sockets in new and retrofit installations. 888.385.5742. www.colorkinetics.com..

Lighting Services

Ideal for illuminating collectibles, LumeLEX track-based LED fixtures provide 1,000 lumens of useful white light and a 16-degree beam spread that delivers a flat, even field. Light output can be dimmed down to 10 percent without any shift in color temperature, the manufacturer says. 800.999.9574. www.lightingservicesinc.com..